Friday, March 31, 2017

You're Not Transformed Yet


As you wrap up your last class, submission and exam – this year is not yet over. Not until, aside from the life in denial, the transformation is complete.

I remember before I accepted my admission offer, there were friends who mentioned that I should’ve applied to schools outside the country, as ISB was on a growth spree – while in ranking, but more specifically in its intake year-on-year. There were arguments against the quality of the institute’s churn out as well as against its placement focused, rat-race culture. I was told that I probably settled while I could shoot higher – all personal opinion, mind you. And I walked in with thinning hair but thickening confidence.

Within a week, the fellow Chartered Accountants seemed more accomplished; the engineers definitely smarter. And why wouldn’t they when it’s expected for CAs to be math geeks while the JEE experienced ace at financial equations.

I hope my conceitedness can be forgiven for I thought I could walk into this institution and rule it for having settled for something in India rather than moving farther from home, whereas my classmates would be those for whom this was a dream come true. It’s a pity how far some of us can imagine ourselves from reality.

Now, what would you do but transform when your bubble of self-assurance bursts. This year, as many of our alums mentioned during the O-Week, is a humbling experience. You’re amidst a pack of doyens, ready to sprint and grab what you’ve laid your heart on while you trot on a Jaipur foot. Or Delhi foot, or Bombay – coming from cities where egos inflate with small achievements.

The year was tough to begin with: a feeling of loneliness, never-before-experienced competitiveness and given by a few instances at the squash court, head-breaking if not cut-throat competition. It took months to figure out how this world works, cracking case-studies, making resumes, attending interviews and running calculations of ROI – like it’s so easy to put a percentage on experience.

We’ve seen brave-hearts with GPA 4 rejected by companies by the dozen and party-planners get the highest of packages. And then we’ve found ourselves in the middle somewhere – either with changed career paths or hands folded in gratitude for being blessed with a job-profile that we think we were only lucky to bag.

We’ve all humbled through the year, as most of us will claim on our way out. However, it’s important to remember that true humility is not a result of undervaluation of one’s talents and accomplishments. It differs from a phase of dealing with relatively low self-confidence. We’ve been in an environment for a year that put us amidst the smartest bunch of 900 we can possibly never find ourselves in again. The world outside will have a more rich portfolio of skills, abilities and talents – not all of which we may have learned to appreciate in whatever degree they present themselves in.

Maybe, the test of our true humility will be when we realize that anyone else we interact with may have probably done better or at least just as well as we may have, had they found the same opportunities for growth as all of us were lucky enough to find not just at ISB, but even before and much after.

With this, we’re almost ready to sign off, knowing that we were definitely blessed to have been a part of this cohort. We leave with dreams to fly, to achieve much more than what we thought we could before coming to the Indian School of Business. Among all these hopes should be the dream to create platforms for others to achieve – for hopefully, that would be the mark of the true to its core, humble leaders from the PGP Class of 2017. The test of transformation awaits.

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This piece was addressed to the PGP (MBA) Class of 2017 at the Indian School of Business on 31st March, 2017 - a week before their convocation.

Image Credits: Venkataragavan Sabesan

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Case of Hindi, Sanskrit and Maternal Influence

It was an early Sunday morning and I had quite ambitiously managed to capture the look of someone who parts his hair with a generous smear of Arnica hair oil and stares blankly at his math textbook in an attempt to show sincerity to the feminine parent walking in and out of the room, instructing the domestic help to wipe the edges of the floor in compensation for the weekday she took off the previous week. While it seemed like I had completed my Masters in verbosity and a false sense of ability to appreciate literature, as reflected in the previous sentence, a big question about my literary pursuits through high school remained unanswered.

Should I be taking Hindi as my second language in the ninth grade or Sanskrit?

The answer was as simple as choosing between Jennifer Aniston and Jennifer Lawrence. It’s best to pick the one you relate to more. Not like I relate to being the emotionally distraught female lead in Silver Linings Playbook, but if it counts, I share my birth year with Lawrence. So, as I had almost made up my mind to pick Hindi, my mother decided to relate to the one she shares her birth year with and picked Sanskrit.

The arguments in defense of my choice were one, that I topped my class in Hindi the previous year, and two, I enjoyed the subject. Also, I hated studying Sanskrit. But then of course, haha, who said that mattered? ROFLOL overbearing parents *cough*

The Mother’s argument was that Sanskrit was more scoring. Made sense if the discussion was about who among Aniston and Lawrence scored more in the number of husbands till date, but then of course, haha, who said that I scraped through the class average only in Sanskrit while topping Hindi mattered? ROFLOL children’s interest *cough cough*

As both parties found themselves at a deadlock, an arbitrator (The Father) was appointed, who performed his duty to the fullest by appreciating the Gobhi Paraunthe heavily that morning and awarded that the subsidiary company comply with the holding company’s mandate in line with the Ahuja Group’s overall objective of unhindered growth and peaceful organizational culture.

The defeated party cried foul, and on insistence of the Maternal Highness, the matter was directly thrown to the highest appellate authority, Hon’ble Sri Krishna.

The Mother initiated me into the process quite diligently. An equal number of chits with each ‘Hindi’ and ‘Sanskrit’ had to be prepared and placed before the Hon’ble Bench. The proceedings involved an hour long recital of Saraswati Chalisa, Hanuman Chalisa, Krishna Chalisa and the Gayatri Mantra, which both the Mother and I sang in unison, followed by the Lord’s Prayer which I had learnt in school and only I recited as a closing argument. The Mother attempted to beat the little cymbals in rhythm to “Our Father, thou art in heaven…”, and in effect, did not let me have the last word before His Highness because “do not bring us to the test, but deliver us from all evil… om shanti shanti shanti om”.

The Lord gave his decision by inaudibly suggesting that I pick a chit. I complied.

“Hindi”, the chit said.

“Woohoo!”

“Shut up, you’re taking Sanskrit.”

P.S. I scored a 95 in Sanskrit in my tenth grade. Who knows, I would have scored a perfect score on Hindi had the judgment not been vetoed by the other party.


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Image Source: cepuckett.com

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Raees: When You Listen to Your Mum, But You Don't

Have you heard of the barebottoms? They’re shoes without soles. These shoes are synonymous to a character named Raees Khan - who looks the part, but again, lacks a soul.

The movie, Raees, begins with a young titular character running errands for a local bootlegger in Gujarat. While he’s endearing as a school-goer and otherwise, he loses sincerity immensely to the screenplay, proportionally as he grows in age. The character’s life and decisions rest on one teaching given by his mother: “Koi bhi dhanda chhota nahi hota, aur dhande se bada koi dharm nahi hota”. While on paper, the line looks like it has weight to develop a fan-following as did the Abhishek Bacchan starrer, Guru; on delivery, it appears like a stillborn. In an industry where “in kutton ke saamne mat naachna” has maintained its cult status after half a century, it’s interesting to debate whether Raees lost its charm in execution (where Shah Rukh Khan’s acting was on point) or in writing (when Jaadu’s alien-voiced ‘Om-Om-Om-Om’ appears as a more memorable line, repetition and alliteration not-withstanding).

The first half shows the young entrepreneurial boy setting up a bootlegging business in competition to his godfather. His rise makes you feel for him. You cheer for him when you see him thrash goons with a goat’s head when he tries to set up a small meat selling stall during Eid. It makes you want to give up your 9-to-5 at Infosys and wishing that much like Raees’ employer, Narayan Murthy had thrown his Titan (because he doesn’t wear Rolex despite being able to afford it) at your face, that would’ve triggered you to walk out of that beautiful Mysore campus and pursue your start-up dream. However, as the gangster’s empire grows in size, so do the plot-holes.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Officer Majmudar is a delight on screen, and makes up for all the charm that we’re otherwise used to seeing SRK exude, albeit off-screen. He is an honest police officer who despite humbly accepting transfer orders, is bent on obtaining evidence against Raees Khan’s misdeeds. When he blocks a road to nab one of the protagonist’s trucks, Raees Khan shows his ‘baniye ka dimaag’ and ‘miyan bhai ki daring’ by taking another route into the state. Woot! Further, when the police blocks all roads, the ‘baniye ka dimaag-miyan bhai ki daring’ comes up with the masterplan to use the waterways to get liquor in. Double Woot! While Raees’ trucks evade the barricades on each occasion, a sense of dismay sets in not because you realize the lack of infrastructure with the Indian police to close all possible modes of entry, but because the movie ridiculously insults a baniya’s dimaag and a miyan bhai’s daring by expecting you to celebrate the move as if it were worthy of an Olympic gold, or okay, to be realistic, the logistics version of a Spelling Bee trophy.

During the second half, Raees Khan uses all his funds to contest elections for the Legislative Assembly so as to strengthen his political ground for business sustenance, and then spends his savings in working capital for building a residential colony for his vote-bank. The character loses sincerity when it’s apparent how his decisions are business related, but he expects the audience to believe, with tears in his eyes on one occasion, that it’s all for the benefit of his community. One would defend it in the name of Corporate Social Responsibility – business while looking after the needs of the community. However, the sense of Robinhoodness that awakens in our gangster appears more like a sham trust-deed to avail tax benefits than sincere CSR spending of up to two percent of your net profit1 – consequently, you fail to feel for the character anymore.

A proviso to the lesson given by Raees’ mother was: ‘as long as your dhanda hurts nobody’. One would hate to turn this into a moral debate, but in the context of this movie and otherwise, how would you define ‘hurt’?

Is making alcohol available for people to turn into drunkards not a kind of ‘hurt’? Maybe not as per most moral compasses. Is murdering competitors and politicians in an attempt to set up an illegal business not ‘hurt’? Maybe not when like most people in the world, the characters murdered are themselves grey, regardless of the shade of grey they exhibit when compared to the murderer.

The character realizes ‘hurt’ when he’s made an instrument to import explosives for a devastating blast in the country. The guilt hits him so hard that he surrenders to the police and in the penultimate scene, questions Siddiqui if he will be able to live with the guilt of murdering Raees. *long pause to let that sink in*

The movie flails in maintaining sincerity while attempting to showcase a gangster with a heart of gold – which in my opinion, there was none.

The closing scene shows Siddiqui moving away with his army of officers into their patrolling vehicles, leaving Khan shot dead on the highway side. The shot would’ve earned Siddiqui street-cred for the swag with which he walks back, except it brings none because you’re left wondering why the police would drive off without taking the fugitive’s corpse. When thoughts such as this overshadow the emotion a scene attempts to generate, you know that something has failed.

Battery nahi bolne ka”, I said as my friends pointed out that my glasses are similar to Raees’ big frames. So here go 2.5 jalebis because I walked out with a memorable line nevertheless.

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1demerits of letting a Chartered Accountant do movie reviews